A company is planning to build two new coal mines in struggling Appalachian communities as federal regulations and cheap natural gas force many of the region’s mines to shut down.
Regulatory changes in China and increased demand in India caused coal prices to rise by 20 percent in the last week. Rising coal price have prompted Ramaco Development to plan a pair of new coal mines in West Virginia and Virginia. They will create about 400 jobs in counties where unemployment is almost three times the national average.
“It’s a fairly big deal, frankly, for southern West Virginia,” Randall Atkins, CEO of Ramaco Development, told The Associated Press. “If we can control costs, the market will take care of itself. So even when you had a very low point in the market — which frankly we’ve had in the past 12 months — our cost is such that we would still be quite profitable.”
The two planned mines will be operational for around 17 years. Test mining will begin next year. The company plans to start exporting coal in 2018, most of which will be used to make steel.
America has 83,000 fewer coal jobs and 400 fewer coal mines than it did when President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, showing that the president has followed through on his pledge to “bankrupt” the coal industry.
“So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it’s just that it will bankrupt them, because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted,” Obama said during a 2008 interview with the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial board. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton also pledged that, “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
Obama and Clinton largely succeeded in shutting down coal power in the U.S., but the coal America would be burning is now being shipped to India, according to data from the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA).
India is buying way more coal from America than it used to; India bought 5 percent of America’s coal in 2014, while in 2015, the country purchased an additional two million short tons — meaning 9 percent of American coal went to India, according to the EIA. India’s government plans to double coal production and imports by 2020, while building 87,122 megawatts of new coal power capacity.
“[O]ur dependence on coal will continue. There are no other alternatives available,” a top Indian coal ministry bureaucrat told Reuters in December. India says coal provides the cheapest energy for the kind of rapid industrialization that will lift millions out of poverty. The U.S. coal shipped to China and Australia will be used to make steel.
A 2015 study found the coal industry lost 50,000 jobs from 2008 to 2012 during Obama’s first term. During Obama’s second term, the industry employment in coal mining has fallen by another 33,300 jobs, 10,900 of which occurred in the last year alone, according to federal data. Currently, coal mining employs 69,460 Americans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Much of the blame for the job losses is targeted at federal regulations aimed at preventing global warming, which caused coal power plants to go bankrupt.
Coal mining employment has declined so drastically because coal production has fallen by 15 percent since 2008, as companies have been forced by environmental regulation to shut down 400 mines due to decreasing demand. Companies opened 103 new mines in the U.S. in 2013, while 271 coal mines were idled or shut down, according to the EIA.
EPA regulations and cheap natural gas have devastating coal companies as well, even forcing Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company, to declare bankruptcy earlier this month. Other American coal companies have faced financial problems too. Arch Coal filed for bankruptcy in January, and coal companies like Alliance Coal announced mass layoffs.
The Obama administration has offered a mere $14.5 million in federal funding for programs to retrain out-of-work coal miners.
As a result, many ex-coal miners are unemployed, and Appalachian “coal country” has faced very real economic devastation as a result. The coal-producing areas of eastern Kentucky have an unemployment rate of 8 percent, and parts of West Virginia have double-digit unemployment.
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